This article was prepared based on a shmuess
delivered on erev Shavuos 5759 in the Beis Medrash Elyon and
kollel Toras Chesed.
"In the third month, after bnei Yisroel left the land
of Egypt, on that same day, they came into the Sinai desert.
For they departed from Refidim, and came to the Sinai desert,
and pitched in the desert; and there Yisroel camped before
the mountain" (Shemos 19:1-2). Chazal expound in the
Mechilta: "Just as their purpose of coming to the Sinai
desert was to receive the Torah, so their purpose of
traveling from Refidim was to receive the Torah."
The Netziv (in Ha'ameik Dovor) asks why we need to know
why Bnei Yisroel traveled from Refidim. The Netziv
answers that the Mechilta is teaching us that the more
a person readies himself for kedushah, the more he is
actually qualified for it. Bnei Yisroel began, from
when they were in Refidim at the outset of their travels, to
prepare themselves to receive the Torah so as to be fully
prepared when the time came.
Hashem made this yom tov of matan Torah an
annual segulah for us. Each person can attain the
tremendous gift of receiving the Torah, of being blessed from
Hashem with success in Torah study and on this day be granted
a spiritual abundance for the whole year. But, as we learn
from the Netziv, everything depends on our preparation. The
more we prepare ourselves, the more we are able to secure the
inspiration emitting from this special time and from the
momentous events that occurred.
What preparation can we make? On what should we reflect and
by what should we be stimulated at this time?
The Torah commands us: "Only take heed to yourself, and keep
your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes
have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days
of your life. But teach them to your sons, and your sons'
sons--the day you stood before Hashem your Elokim in
Chorev . . ." (Devorim 4:9-10). The Ramban (ibid.)
explains that the Torah commands us in a mitzvas
aseih to remember the ma'amad at Mount Sinai. This
mitzvah was not only for the generation that received the
Torah. Hashem also commanded all future generations to
remember the revelation on Mount Sinai.
But remembering alone is insufficient. After our reflecting
we must feel "that [y]our eyes have seen," and it should be
an uninterrupted feeling, one of "all the days of your life."
Furthermore, we must "teach them [what has happened, to] your
Why is all this necessary? "To remember from where you
received the mitzvos" (Ramban, ibid.). We must
understand fully what Torah is and what mitzvos are. We must
realize that Torah is a hidden treasure from Heaven and
before it was given, HaKodosh Boruch Hu "entertained"
Himself with it each day. Because of Hashem's tremendous
goodness and kindness He gave this present to Klal
We must always remember that when Hashem gave us the Torah He
revealed Himself to us and opened all seven firmaments to
show Yisroel that no power exists other than Hashem.
The kings in Canaan were struck with fear after the
ma'amad at Mt. Sinai. Chazal write that they were
overwhelmed when they saw the change that had taken place in
the creation. They were witness to the silence that prevailed
all over the world and noted that even birds did not chirp.
Only the voice of Hashem became increasingly stronger, and
Moshe spoke and Elokim answered him loudly. The kings
went to Bilaam to ask what had happened. Perhaps another flood
was overtaking the world?
This all happened because of the monumental importance of
giving this treasure to am Yisroel.
Our Torah study and mitzvah performance take on a different
sense when we fully realize and feel the Torah's immense
value. We sever ourselves completely from material matters
and desires, and live in a Gan Eden of Torah. In
studying Torah we cling to Hashem: the Torah, HaKodosh
Boruch Hu, and Yisroel are one. Clinging to Hashem is the
aim of this mitzvah of remembering the ma'amad on Mount
"Moshe said to the people, Fear not for Hashem is coming to
test you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that
you sin not" (Shemos 20:17). The Ramban writes: "It is
possible that the posuk means that since you live with
emunah, Elokim draws near. Since He has revealed His
Shechinoh to you, emunah enters your hearts and
you cling to Him and your souls never separate from that
The Torah's main merit is helping us to cling to Hashem.
However, sometimes we see people on whom the Torah they study
appears to make no impression. There is no discernible
difference between them and other people. Where is the
Torah's influence on their nefesh?
It is evident that not everyone studying Torah is
zocheh to such character changes. Only study in the
manner we mentioned, breaking away from Olam Hazeh,
where studying Torah and laboring in Torah becomes the entire
aim, changes the nefesh.
Chazal (Shabbos 88b) teach us, "The Torah is a elixir
of life for those engaging in it with all their might and
delve into its secret like the use of the right hand to a
right handed person" (see Rashi). They are totally immersed
in the sugya they are studying and they exert
themselves to understand its every detail. They must know how
the Ramban, how the Rashbo will explain the gemora.
After such study they are truly privileged to "know its
secret" and with their tremendous efforts they are
zocheh to an immense light of revelation with which
they can understand the depth in their studies.
This is how Torah should be studied and this is the only way
we can acquire the segulah of the Torah, to make an
indelible impression on our neshomoh and to obtain the
desired level of clinging to Hashem.
The Ramban continues to teach us another matter that we must
learn in this mitzvah of remembering the ma'amad on
Mount Sinai. "`That his fear may be before your faces' when
you see that only He is Elokim in heaven and earth, and
you will greatly fear Him." Standing near Mount Sinai had yet
another aim: implanting yirah within the soul of
bnei Yisroel. Perfection is dependent mainly upon the
Torah being studied with yiras Shomayim.
"He shall be the emunah of your times, a strength of
salvation, wisdom and knowledge, the fear of Hashem is his
treasure" (Yeshaya 33:6). Chazal (Shabbos 31a)
write: "`Emunah' is seder Zeroim, `your times'
is seder Mo'ed . . . and nonetheless, only if `fear of
Hashem is his treasure.' This can be compared to a man who
asked a shaliach to bring up a kur of wheat to
the attic. The shaliach brought it up. He asked him:
`Did you mix in a kav of chumtin? The
shaliach answered: `No.' He said to him: `If so, it
would have been preferable not to have brought it up at
Chazal are talking about someone knowledgeable in all parts
of the Torah. Understanding Torah means, according to Chazal,
knowing well all the six sedorim of Shas.
Nonetheless, if a person lacks yiras Shomayim he
lacks in his knowledge of Torah too, and what he knows is
worthless -- "It would have been preferable not to have
brought it up at all." Any success in Torah study, any
segulah in the Torah, is only for one who blends in a
kav of yiras Shomayim.
The Midrash Tanchuma (parshah 58) writes that
HaKodosh Boruch Hu signed a pact with Yisroel only
because of the Oral Torah "that is difficult to study and
involves much suffering . . . with many details that require
care in minor and major mitzvos, and is as strong as death
and its jealousy is as great as the abyss. Only someone who
loves HaKodosh Boruch Hu with his whole heart, soul,
and might studies it . . . since anyone who loves wealth and
pleasures cannot study the Oral Torah . . . that involves
much suffering and lack of sleep. You will not find the Oral
Torah attached to a person who seeks the pleasures of this
world, who desires honor or glory."
Chazal are teaching us the above principles: To be
zocheh to the segulos of the Torah we must
distance ourselves from Olam Hazeh, to have nothing to
do with material desires and to be repulsed by honor, to flee
from distinction, to completely subjugate ourselves to
toiling in Torah and desire to understand what Hashem is
teaching us. To succeed in Torah we also need yiras
Shomayim and love of Hashem with all our heart, soul and
might, without which a person's study is incomplete.
The Rambam (end of Hilchos Me'ilah) writes: "It is
proper for a person to reflect on the mishpotim of the
Torah and to understand them to the best of his ability.
Something he cannot understand or find a reason for should
not be disregarded . . . He should not consider it to be like
When one studies Torah and does mitzvos, he must value the
knowledge he learns since he must realize it comes from
Hashem. This is the foundation of our need to remember the
revelation on Mount Sinai, as we cited from the Ramban. We
must remember Who commanded us to keep these mitzvos, we must
remember that everything is a decree from Above, and we
should not take into consideration our own interests. We
should study Torah for the sake of Torah. [This is the level
of Torah study for its own sake. As the Rosh explains in
Nedorim (62): we must study and feel as though we are
now being commanded from Hashem's mouth, as it were.]
There is another important reason to remember the revelation
on Mount Sinai. The Rambam in his Igeres Teiman
strengthened the hearts of our brethren during the
shmad decree in their land: "Remember the revelation at
Mount Sinai that HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded us always
to remember, warned us not to forget, and instructed us to
teach it to our children so they will grow up studying it.
This is what the Torah writes: `Only take heed to yourself
and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things
which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your
heart all the days of your life. But teach them to your sons
and your sons' sons the day that you stood before Hashem your
Elokim in Chorev" (Devorim 4:9).
"Brothers! It is proper for you to raise your sons in the
knowledge of that great revelation, and to inform others
publicly of its greatness and splendor and that it was
greater than any event, since that knowledge is the
foundation on which emunah is dependent . . . and this
will strengthen the emunah . . . to guard you so that
you will not slip from [our faith] when wrath or shmad
is renewed, chas vesholom, on the Jews, or when the
ruffians get stronger . . . since it is written `For Elokim
has come to test you' (Shemos 20:17). Hashem revealed
Himself like He did so that you will withstand any temptation
that you will encounter [even] in the end of days."
The words of the Rambam illuminate for us the darkness of the
period in which we live, and the ruffians -- the
reshoim among the Jews -- have become strengthened in
our days, and decrees of shmad renew themselves daily
with the aim of uprooting the foundations of Torah and
emunah from our heart, and of generally annulling Torah
and yirah from Yisroel. In such a situation we cannot
know what will happen to us. How we can save ourselves from
What the Rambam wrote was not aimed only at that generation
of shmad decrees in Yemen, but is good for all times.
The Torah advises us to remember the ma'amad at Mount
Sinai, "to inform others publicly of its greatness and
splendor and that it was greater than any event." That
exalted revelation came to strengthen our hearts and our
faith in the Torah's unquestionable truth, which is
impossible to change even in the slightest. By strengthening
ourselves in this recognition and in the greatness of the
Torah and its abundant kedushah, we have the power to
resist all temptations, tests, and gezeiros. Our hearts
will not deviate from Hashem and we will remain with our
emunah intact as it was transmitted to us from Sinai.
Referring to this, the Ramban cites the Moreh Nevuchim:
"Hashem told them not to be afraid. Since the purpose of what
they saw was so that they would never slip from the path of
truth, even when Hashem tests them to prove the value of
their emunah and sends them a false novi to
contradict what they have heard -- since they have seen the
truth with their eyes."
This pertains to Divine trials for the masses in general, as
well as to the individual. It includes tests to each person
in his avodas Hashem whether in studying Torah despite
disruptions from studying, or in tefillah when other
thoughts deflect concentration, or in correct hashkofoh
despite widespread confusion. It refers to withstanding all
tests that today encompass each person.
The Rambam writes: "No person exists whom HaKodosh Boruch
Hu does not test: the rich person is tested to see if he
gives liberally to the poor, the poor person whether he
willingly accepts his suffering."
Man has many Divine trials because the whole aim of the
creation is to see whether he can resist temptations. The
Mesillas Yeshorim (ch. 1) writes that the main reason
man lives in Olam Hazeh is to fulfill mitzvos and
resist temptations, since we are Hashem's servants. We lack
the basic understanding that our whole raison d'etre in
this world is to withstand the Divine tests. And therefore we
are liable to fail. If we realize that this is our duty, it
will be easier for us to be prepared and cautious and not to
What advice can we give so that we can successfully carry out
our duty? We must remember that we stood at Mount Sinai and
actually feel "what [y]our eyes saw." Such a feeling will
strengthen us so that we will not sin and we will be able to
withstand any temptations, which is the aim of man's
Reflecting on and studying these principles are the fitting
preparation for Shavuos. The more a person lives these
truths, the more capable he will be of receiving the
spiritual abundance of these days.
It is worthwhile to mention a few more important points on
preparation for Torah:
Chazal (Nedorim 38), referring to prophets, write:
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu makes His Shechinoh dwell
only on a rich person, a mighty person, a wise person, and a
modest person, and all these attributes were found in Moshe
Rabbenu." Through modesty a person is zocheh to Torah.
Furthermore, Chazal (Shabbos 89) teach us "R' Yehoshua
ben Levi said: `When Moshe appeared before HaKodosh Boruch
Hu the Satan immediately said to HaKodosh Boruch Hu
"Ruler of the World! Where is the Torah?" Hashem answered: "I
placed it on the earth." . . . The Satan went to Moshe and
asked him where the Torah that HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave
him is. Moshe answered: "Whom am I that HaKodosh Boruch
Hu will give me the Torah?" HaKodosh Boruch Hu said
to Moshe: "You are telling a falsehood." Moshe answered: "You
have a hidden treasure that You delight in every day and I
will alone take hold it only for me?" HaKodosh Boruch
Hu answered: "Since you belittled yourself the Torah will
be called on your name."'"
We can see that Moshe was zocheh to acquire the Torah,
that it be considered his Torah (which is what is meant by
"the Torah will be called on your name") only because he
belittled himself, that is, that he acted modestly. Chazal
tell us that divrei Torah only remain with someone who
lowers himself and makes himself like a desert. Through such
behavior we reach the virtue of "Yisroel camped" as "one man
with one heart." Modesty is necessary to acquire Torah
knowledge, and includes feeling the needs of other people and
desiring to help them as we would like to help ourselves.
On the posuk "They traveled from Refidim and came to
the Sinai desert," the Or HaChaim explains that the Torah
wants to tell us that we cannot achieve any grasp of Torah
without making a tremendous effort and overcoming laziness.
"They traveled from Refidim" -- they traveled from rifyon
yodayim (laziness). Chazal write on, "They fought with
Yisroel in Refidim," that is means that they fought with
rifyon yodayim. They now traveled away from this
laziness and prepared themselves to labor in avodas
Hashem so that they could worship Hashem and attain
enjoyment and be zocheh to receive the Torah.
Each one of us should correctly prepare himself in all the
above. Each person who does that will surely be zocheh
to receive the magnificent present from HaKodosh Boruch
Hu of the Torah's radiance and to receive much more than
his capability or talents. The Torah will become his
inheritance, his Torah.
HaRav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz is the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas LeTze'irim of Yeshivas Ponevezh and is a member of
the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah.